Editor's note: This is part of a three-part series on applied neuroscience for cosmetic product development. Part I defines neuroscience; Part II demonstrates a study to understand the consumer; Part III shows how the described concepts can be applied to product development.
Study 2: Product Research
In consumer research, it can be difficult to differentiate stimuli, such as color, fragrance, texture and taste based on standard liking and intensity scores alone. Frequently, two or more stimuli are equally liked and not significantly different from one another based on the liking and intensity scales. Therefore, it is important to understand the effects of product attributes beyond the traditional measures of hedonics and quantitative/qualitative testing.
Here, a new holistic methodologyh is described that combines traditional with psycho-physiological measures. It was developed for differentiating the liking and intensity of similarly liked stimuli and allows researchers to determine product attribute appropriateness for fit to concept and higher order psychological benefits.
This approach provides a sensitive and efficient way to better understand consumer behavior and emotion, differentiate changes to product attributes, and make more informed product design decisions.
Methods: Study 2
Participants: Twenty-five adult female participants between the ages of 18-35 were recruited via an online advertisement. All participants signed an informed consent form and received an incentive for their participation.
Questionnaire: Participants were asked to rate fragrances using the 7-point Likert scale for liking, intensity and appropriateness of the fragrances for the product concept. The product concept included an image of the product along with a description; e.g., “This lotion leaves skin feeling soft and fresh.”
Priming: Participants were primed with target fragrances (n = 3), followed by a target concept (n = 1), then exposed to the combination of the target fragrance and concept in order to assess the effect of each alone and combined. The fragrances were all rated as highly liked, but differed in fragrance characteristics; e.g., different types of floral and powder notes.
Psycho-physiological measures: The positive, negative or control priming effect was measured by electrophysiological changes and eye tracking behavior as described in Study 1. Again, assessments included fEMG for emotional valence, HRV for attention and GSR conductance for arousal.
Procedure: The experimental sessions took place in a centrally located testing facility in New Jersey. The experiment leader explained the experiment to the participant, allowed time for questions and asked the participant to sign the informed consent form, after which the electrodes were placed (see Figure 2). Oral instructions were given by the experiment leader and displayed on a computer screen.
After instruction, participants were given a fragrance bottle to squeeze and sniff, followed by 10 seconds of physiological measurements. This was followed by a prompt on the computer screen to answer survey questions on liking, intensity and appropriateness. Following fragrance exposure, participants were shown the target concept on the computer screen for 10 seconds of physiological measurements. This was again followed by a prompt on the computer screen to answer survey questions on liking and appropriateness.
Following concept exposure and survey, a combination of the target fragrance, introduced via squeeze sniff bottle, with the target concept was presented for 10 seconds. Again, this was followed by a prompt on the computer screen to answer survey questions on liking, intensity and appropriateness.
Data analysis: Data was analyzed as described in Study 1.
Results: Study 2
Hedonics and appropriateness for fragrance alone: Analyses showed no differences among the fragrances for appropriateness [F(2, 69) = 0.64, p = 0.53] or liking [F(2, 69) = 2.5, p = 0.09] (see Figure 8).
Fragrance alone on psycho-physiological measures: The fragrances (A, B and C) had no significant effect on either positive or negative emotional valence obtained by fEMG.
Time-averaged means of positive valence fEMG to the fragrances alone showed no significant differences [F(2, 27) = 2.26, p = 0.13; see Figure 9a]. Participants felt slightly more positive with fragrance A, followed by B, but little positive emotional reaction to fragrance C.
Time-averaged means of negative valence fEMG to the fragrances alone also showed no significant differences [F(2, 27) = 0.66, p = 0.52; see Figure 9b]. Both fragrances A and B evoked a slightly positive emotional valence, while fragrance C remained neutral.
Further, the fragrances (A, B and C) had no significant effect on either attention (HRV) or arousal (GSR) measurements. Time-averaged means of attention (HRV) to the fragrances alone showed no significant differences [F(2, 27) = 2.38, p = 0.11; Figure 9c]. Participants felt slightly more focused with fragrance B, but not significantly.
Time-averaged means of arousal (GSR) to the fragrances alone also showed no significant differences [F(2, 27) = 2.16, p = 0.14; Figure 9d]. Fragrance B was more relaxing, while fragrances A and C were more neutral in arousal.
Concept alone on psycho-physiological measures: The concept had no significant effect on either positive or negative emotional valence obtained from fEMG for each fragrance group (A, B or C).
Time-averaged means of positive valence fEMG to the concept alone showed no significant differences [F(2, 27) = 0.87, p = 0.43; Figure 10a]. Participants felt slightly less positive with fragrance A and B, but little positive emotional reaction to fragrance C.
Time-averaged means of negative valence fEMG to the concept alone also showed no significant differences [F(2, 27) = 0.80, p = 0.46; see Figure 10b]. The concept drove decreases in negative emotion for all fragrance groups.
However, the concept elicited significantly different levels of attention (HRV) and arousal (GSR) measures among the different fragrance groups. Time-averaged means of attention (HRV) to the concept alone showed significant differences [F(2, 27) = 2.03, p < 0.05; Figure 10c]. Participants in fragrance group A felt significantly less focused on the concept than fragrance groups B and C.
Time-averaged means of arousal (GSR) to the concept alone showed no significant differences [F(2, 27) = 3.29, p < 0.05; see Figure 10d]. Participants in fragrance group A felt more neutrally aroused, while fragrance groups B and C felt significantly more relaxed examining the concept alone.
Concept + fragrance on psycho-physiological measures: The combination of the concept + fragrance had a significant effect on both positive and negative emotional valence obtained from fEMG.
Time-averaged means of positive valence fEMG to the concept + fragrance showed significant differences [F(2, 27) = 1.12, p < 0.05; see Figure 11a]. Participants felt slightly more positive with the concept + fragrance C while fragrances A and B had little effect on positive emotional valence.
In contrast, time-averaged means of negative valence fEMG to the concept alone showed no significant differences [F(2, 27) = 0.29, p < 0.05; see Figure 11b]. The combination of the concept + fragrance drove increases in negative emotion for all fragrance groups, though significantly only for the concept + fragrance B.
The concept + fragrances also significantly affected levels of attention (HRV) and arousal (GSR) measures. Time-averaged means of attention (HRV) to the concept alone showed significant differences [F(2, 27) = 0.74, p < 0.05; see Figure 11c]. All combinations of concept and fragrances, however, increased attention and focus; notably, the concept paired with fragrance B drove the most increase in attention and focus. Time-averaged means of arousal (GSR) to the concept + fragrances also showed significant differences [F(2, 27) = 3.80, p < 0.05; see Figure 11d]. The concept + fragrance B was again significantly more arousing, and the concept + fragrance C was more relaxing.
Conclusions: Study 2
Products are experienced via sensory systems including sight, smell, taste and touch. This experience forms impressions in the brain that affect mood and arousal levels while setting a context for the product. Product experiences can have distinct emotional messages that support brand and positioning, enabling differentiation of samples and product attributes within a product category based on liking, intensity and appropriateness. Creating an experience based on mood, arousal and context is therefore key to product development success.
As is shown here, the new methodology described differentiates the liking/intensity of similarly liked stimuli by combining traditional with psycho-physiological. This approach captures the emotional message of products that is not detected by traditional measures.
Participants reported liking fragrance B the most of the three fragrances presented, although fragrance A, as a fragrance alone, had a positive effect on emotion. However, when the concept was “primed” with fragrance A, this decreased the effect. So while fragrance A was a liked fragrance, it may not have been suitable fit for the concept/product.
Fragrance B, as a fragrance alone, was a liked fragrance and had a positive effect on emotion, was relaxing, and increased attention. However, when the concept was “primed” with fragrance B, it decreased this effect on emotion while still driving attention. When paired with the concept, fragrance B increased negative emotion—possibly as a sign of “novelty” or “incongruence”—while increasing arousal and increasing attention towards the product. Fragrance B may have been novel and therefore not initially recognized for the concept. However, it did draw attention/focus and increase arousal to the concept.
Fragrance C did not have a strong effect emotionally or physiologically alone. However, when the concept was “primed” with fragrance C, it did drive attention up. When paired with the concept, fragrance C increased positive emotions while decreasing arousal. Fragrance C may have been the most recognizable and familiar to the participants, and thus a comfortable match for the product.
In this study, the fragrance was presented first, then the concept, followed by the combination of the fragrance + concept. However, it may be interesting, depending on the goals of the development team, to investigate a different order of effects on the holistic experience; for example, had the concept been tested first, then the fragrance, then the combination. This reversed order may result in different priming effects.
Overall Conclusions, Discussion and Recommendations
The two studies presented in this paper demonstrate ways in which neuroscience and psychology can be applied to consumer research (see Using Applied Neuroscience sidebar). The results for Study 1 interestingly suggest that negative messaging may not be damaging to self-confidence. Positive messaging, however, may attract the most interest in stimuli as well as increase overall feelings of self-confidence. This work could be useful for designing products and positive communications in advertising.
Study 2 successfully differentiated stimuli based on psycho-physiological measures for liking and intensity, as well as assessed attribute appropriateness for fit to concept. This novel methodology provides a sensitive and efficient way to differentiate changes to product attributes.
In a larger view, it is clear how understanding consumer needs for products can help to build better products—i.e., a top-down as opposed to a bottom-up approach. If researchers start by understanding the consumer using qualitative and quantitative research, along with applied consumer neuroscience, a real story into the drivers of behavior and liking of consumer products can be built.
The avenues for applying neuroscience in product research are countless. The over-arching theme is that by starting with the question, i.e., what to the researcher wants to know about a product, communication or the consumer, then a proper study can be designed to answer that question in a way that is useful and actionable to business needs.
~Cosmetics & Toiletries~